JOHNSTOWN LOVES OUTDOOR RECREATION
If you ask Johnstowners their favorite things to do, the chances are that outdoor adventure will top the list. Year-round opportunity abounds to hike, fish, hunt, and explore gorgeous mountains, streams, and valleys, all within a 20-minute drive of the greater Johnstown area.*
If you’re visiting from out of town or you’re a local looking to expand your horizons, these parks, forests, trails, and rivers will all give you a taste of sweet Pennsylvania outdoor perfection.
*This estimated drive time assumes no stray slow-movers on the highway (c’mon, we all have them) and no kayak-roof unsnapping incidents. Plan accordingly, people.
LAUREL RIDGE STATE PARK
This 13,625-acre gem boasts the 70 mile Laurel Highlands hiking trail stretching from the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle State Park to the Conemaugh Gorge in Johnstown. The park borders Cambria, Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland Counties and wraps around Laurel Mountain.
Visitors commend the trail’s reliable markings, rugged and varied terrain, glistening waterfalls, and hard-to-beat combination of flora and fauna. There are pine forests, lush greenery, and mountain laurel to enjoy throughout the trip. Stop at some high elevation spots for breathtaking views and unique rock formations. The park features a wide variety of birds, including great horned owls and turkeys. Rhododendron and mountain laurel (Pennsylvania’s state flower) bloom in June and July, affording hikers vivid scenery throughout the park. Shelters are conveniently placed, and snowmobilers, hunters, and campers are all welcome.
Did you know that Pennsylvania has the most extended and most varied fall foliage season on earth? This might explain why you delight in Johnstown’s season changes. Don’t just fly by Laurel Ridge on the highway. Take advantage of the Discover Fall leaf peeper tours that wind through the park.
If you’re looking for a challenge, 2022 will mark the 43rd running of the Laurel Ridge ultra marathon. Keep an eye out for registration availability.
LORAIN/STONYCREEK HIKING TRAILS
We’ve found a fair amount of Johnstowners have missed this one! The fix is simple. Walk or drive down this weekend for some outdoor kicks. These pristine trails are located on 88 acres of park property, tucked unassumingly behind a colorful playground and field. You’ll notice that these trails are meticulously maintained and very well-marked. The Map of the Earth trail is a rugged 4.8-mile loop that will require basic hiking gear, such as poles and boots. It’s craggy, so watch your ankles, but it’s one of the area’s most enjoyable and scenic hikes. Whitetail Trail is a convenient 1.7-mile loop that will get you anywhere you need to be. The 2.2-mile Pathway to the Falls is just what it sounds like, a hike to 15 foot Turtle Falls. This trail is well worth the price of admission. That price…only your time, friend! There are plenty of flat spots along the way (and some picnic tables and tent-friendly areas) to have a seat and take in the sights, smells, and sounds of the lush greenery. We promise you’ll want to!
This park is an excellent spot for butterflies and bird-watchers, and visitors spot foxes occasionally.
2021 marked year 2 for their Beer, Wine and Spirits Festival, Homegrown Musical Festival, and Halloween Bash. With that and the sponsorships they offer, welcome traffic will be picking up in this hidden gem very soon.
If you’re a history buff or a believer in inspiring reclamation projects, 270 acre+ Stackhouse Park in the heart of Westmont is for you. The park is named after Pennsylvania native and Civil War veteran Powell Stackhouse. In the 1920s, Stackhouse’s son gifted the park to the city of Johnstown with the stipulation that the park is never developed or timbered for profit. After an initial ten-year run of enjoyment by outdoorsmen near and far, the park would fall into decades of disrepair. In 1986, some Johnstowners stepped in and formed Stackhouse Park, Inc. to restore the park to its original beauty.
Stackhouse is one of the most kid-friendly parks in the area featuring a mix of newly marked easy and moderate trails, and there’s plenty to see to break up the journey. With a wide creek running through the park, plenty of animals to see, and wooden markers providing information about noteworthy trees, this park offers plenty of entertainment.
Norton Path has a steeper incline and will take you from Luzerne Street down to the West End. The winding Ecology Trail near the park entrance has a moderate grade towards the creek bed and is a great place to spot mushrooms. Luzerne Path, which runs along the park’s right side, offers a rolling and leisurely hike. If you’re looking for a challenge, traverse the Tall Timber Trail and Bridle Paths on the far left side of the park. These trails loop around the rim of the park and are where you’re most likely to see deer. Elk Run is one of the most popular paths as it runs along the stream, provides a broad mix of foliage, and in late summer, the raspberries and blackberries are in bloom.
Don’t miss Shakespeare in the Park in August to enjoy some of your favorite plays in an outdoor setting. The park also hosts regular turkey hunter clinics and outdoor yoga classes. Art Walk in The Park was put on for its second year in August 2021 to showcase local arts and crafts, and Stackhouse Run the Park is a challenging 5k/10k with steep grades. You won’t run your best times in this race, but you may HAVE the best time in that race.
Hunting is prohibited, but this is a great place for pets because of the open space.
INCLINED PLANE MOUNTAIN BIKING TRAILS
Johnstown lays claim to the world’s steepest vehicular inclined plane, which is currently undergoing a facelift scheduled for completion in the spring of 2023. If you keep a close eye on the area surrounding the incline, you may see mountain bikers carving their way down one of the nine well-maintained trails winding down the bluff. Bikers have been checking in from all over the country since the trail project was completed in 2018. Johnstown’s Mike Cook and the volunteers who spearheaded the bike trail project in 2018 have painstakingly maintained the trail to ensure visitor safety and enjoyment. The trailhead is accessible from Tioga and Edgehill in Westmont. If you’re a mountain biker, don’t skip this one.
GHOST TOWN TRAIL
This twisting 46-mile Rail-Trail abundant in coal mining history offers a riveting blend of Pennsylvania’s past and present with breath-taking views. Running from Blacklick to Ebensburg, The Ghost Town Trail (GTT) was “Pennsylvania’s 2020 Trail of the Year,” and in 2016, it was ranked seventh in “Best Hiking Trails in the United States.”
The trail gets its name from the deserted coal-mining towns that it winds through. Passers-by can stop to see these massive iron furnaces, old coal-loading tipples, boney (coal-refuse) piles, and other industrial artifacts. There are historical markers and memorials throughout, so historians will feel like they’re in an outdoor museum at times. Check a box on your National Register of Historic Places list with a stop at the Eliza Furnace in Vintondale.
The packed limestone trail offers some moderate climbs, but it is very family-friendly. If you like taking outdoor photographs from bridges, this trail has them. Photo ops abound of mountain streams running beneath historic bridges, fiery cardinal flowers, and azaleas brightening the landscape and a wide variety of easy-to-spot animals.
You can rent a bike at the Ebensburg Young Peoples Community Center if you’re looking for convenience.
For those looking for an ultra-run with views, the Ghost Town Trail Challenge (50k, 25k, and 12k) will be going into its seventh year in 2022. Keep an eye out for registration next year.
2021 marks the first Chernisky Ghost Town Trail-a-Thon, which includes two days of running and biking. A full marathon, 15 miler, and 5k, along with an unsupported bike event.
One of the 13 Trans Allegheny Trails, the GTT joins with the Hoodlebug Trail in Blacklick.
GALLITZIN STATE FOREST
Not to be confused with Prince Gallitzin State Park, which misses the list because of its distance from Johnstown. The forest is named for Dimetrius Augustine Gallitzin, the Dutch Catholic emigre who founded the settlement of Loretto.
The forest is expansive, covering nearly 25,000 acres and bordering Somerset, Bedford, Cambria, and Indiana counties. It’s conveniently accessible from nearby Windber. The forest is known for its lengthy trails, including the 18 mile John P. Saylor trail and the 26 miles Lost Turkey trail, which reaches into Blue Knob state park. Twelve miles of trails are designated for horseback riding. Fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and camping are all permitted. Backpacking is popular on the Lost Turkey Trail. Clear Shade Creek is well-stocked with brown and brook trout and offers prime fly fishing.
Don’t miss the Wolf Rocks geological site and panoramic views of Bedford county, the Conemaugh River Gap, and Blue Knob. The elevation in Pennsylvania’s state forests offers spectacular views in the fall, and Gallitzin is no exception.
BLUE KNOB STATE PARK
Come for the hiking, stay for the camping (or glamping) at this 6,128-acre park. The park was named for 3,146 ft Blue Knob, the second-highest mountain in Pennsylvania and the highest skiable mountain in the state. Chappells Field, Crist Ridge, and Homestead Trail are all scenic and family-friendly. The rest of the trails here are challenging and enjoyed by more experienced hikers. You can pick up the 26 mile long Lost Turkey Trail from either Blue Knob or Gallitzin State Forest. With brooks, panoramic views, and a wide variety of terrain, Blue Knob is classic Pennsylvania hiking.
Where Blue Knob separates itself from other parks is with its cabins. If you’re set on outdoor adventure, but glamping is more your pace, their modern style cabins have amenities such as heating, A/C, bedrooms, bathrooms, and more. With dozens of tent and trailer sites available from spring to fall, a swimming pool, and picnic spots, this is the park if you’re looking for a long-term stay.
Both spring and fall feature unbelievably vibrant foliage. Wildflowers take over the mountaintops in the spring, and maples add breath-taking color in the fall.
Animals are very active here. Trout fishing and hunting are excellent here. If you’re looking for rare animal sightings, this is a good spot for black bears, coyotes, and red-tailed hawks. Don’t approach the bear or coyotes.
Rock N’ The Knob is Pennsylvania’s highest trail race, and it is CHALLENGING. Check it out next year if you’re looking to add some extra burn onto your next long-distance race, and you don’t care if your friends and family think you’re nuts. (If you’re a distance runner, you don’t care what they think anyway!)
With the Conemaugh and Stoneycreek Rivers running through Johnstown and shooting off into a variety of creeks, streams, and reservoirs the city is a prime location for fishing and water sports. Not to mention, you can use its waterways to get to other major cities…
PITTSBURGH TO HARRISBURG MAINLINE CANAL GREENWAY
Did you know that you can bike from Johnstown to Harrisburg? It’s true. Or head west and ride the river to Pittsburgh if that’s what floats your (non-motorized recreational) boat.
The Canal is another one for history buffs and community builders with a passion for the outdoors. This 320- mile corridor of water and land trails follows the historic Pennsylvania Mainline canal from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.
Ain’t nothing wrong with the views on the drive out to the cities, but if you’re looking for adventure or a way to mix things up, this might be your bag. On that note, if you’re taking the river, don’t forget the dry bags!
If you’re down for a good time, the rivers are a great place to find them.
When the summer sun warms Johnstown’s waters, Coal Tubin’ hits the spot for river adventure. Enjoy a low-key tubing trip or paddle your kayak down level 3 rapids. Tubing, kayaking, rafting, and even biking adventures are available at affordable pricing, and they offer veteran discounts. Coal Tubin has gradually grown into one of Johnstown’s favorite businesses since opening in 2009.
Did you know Johnstown has a Canoe and Kayak Club? Experienced paddlers are welcome to join Benscreek Canoe Club, or beginners can contact the group for lessons. Join the club for a trip to Stonycreek Canyon, which is known for its fifteen named Class III-IV rapids. Out of Clear Shade, Dark Shade, Roaring Fork, Paint Creek, Quemahoning Creek, Trout Run, Bens Creek, Stonycreek Gorge will offer anywhere from II-V rapids with a nice mix of serene settings to churning waters. Roaring Fork and Paint Creek are especially challenging and Quemahoning is a nice one for beginners. You’ll find what you’re looking for!
The canoe club’s annual Stonycreek Rendezvous at Greenhouse Park features races, windsurfing, and camping and is always a hit.
Both Coal Tubin and the Canoe Club often launch from another one of our favorite spots in town, and the next spot on our list, Greenhouse Park.
Greenhouse Park runs along the Stonycreek River in the Tire Hill area (off 403 between Johnstown and Davidsville). Novice and advanced paddlers can find Class II rapids and hydraulics in Whitewater Park, the first artificial set of rapids in the state of Pennsylvania. Greenhouse hosts some of the most popular events in town, including Johnstown’s internationally known Thunder In The Valley, the Stonycreek Rendezvous, and concerts of all sizes. There’s a playground for the kids and plenty of space for picnics. Play volleyball, walk the track or camp out at this cozy 11-acre spot.
QUEMAHONING RESERVOIR AND FAMILY RECREATION AREA
Many Johnstowners have made a lifetime of memories at The Quemahoning Reservoir, and so should you. Rule of thumb: when a park is known primarily by an affectionate nickname, it’s well-liked. “The Que” (pronounced Kwee) is no exception, offering postcard views from all around the reservoir and plenty of outdoor activities for all ages. With inexpensive rustic cabins, RV camping, and pavilions available, along with plenty of space for sports, it’s a popular place for staycations.
Some of the biggest fish in the area are caught at the Que, including pike, bullhead catfish, and bass. If you love the water, but you’re not looking to drop a pole in, the Reservoir is a peaceful place to canoe, kayak, windsurf, or paddleboard. Bald eagles are seen on occasion at the dam, and other birds of prey are familiar sights.
The park offers 34 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails, with the new 17-mile Quemahoning Trail being the centerpiece. The Que Classic 5k is held every fall and is an excellent option for runners of all experience levels. It also happens to offer some of the best post-race snacks in the area with Pie Shoppe Cinnamon rolls and coffee.
SHAWNEE STATE PARK
Just south of historic Bedford, this picturesque 4,000-acre park has a 451-acre warm water reservoir at the center of the park. Boat rentals are available during the summer and are very popular. Of the 16 miles of trails, most are challenging. Forbes and Lake Shore Trails are scenic and easy options for families, with the rest being solid options for more advanced hikers. The reservoir is the centerpiece for photography here, but the trails offer excellent views as well.
Shawnee is well-stocked with a wide variety of species, including bass, pike, muskie, walleye, perch, bluegill, crappie, sunfish, and bullhead. Deer, rabbit, squirrel, and grouse hunting are available on 3,000 acres.
199 campsites, including primitive or full hook-up service. Cottages, yurts, and a lakeside lodge are all available for rent as well.
The park also has a 9 hole disc golf course and a loop around the reservoir.
Shawnee is an excellent option for winter sports as well. Its hiking trails are heavily used for cross-country skiing, the Colvin Boat Launch area on the reservoir is popular for ice skating and fishermen are a common sight on the ice in the wintertime. There are 11 miles of trails designated for snowmobiling as well.
Having been on the deep end of three historic floods, Johnstown became a town of history and resiliency. The park is adjacent to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial and Coal Miner’s Memorial & Museum, 10 minutes from US Route 219. Take the family to learn about the historic 1889 flood at the memorial and then walk down to enjoy the park.
An excellent spot for a day trip or party, the park offers a well-maintained playground, baseball field, bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, a roller rink, and two trails that wind around the property. Pavilions, campsites, and RV/camper hookup sites make it an overnight option as well.
YELLOW CREEK STATE PARK
This gorgeous 2,981-acre park is named for the clay-bottomed Yellow and Little-Yellow creeks which flow into its 720-acre lake. Swimmers and loungers love the well-maintained white sand beaches and anglers visit for the warm-water panfish and gamefish such as bass, walleye, musky, pike, perch, bluegill, and catfish. Yellow Creek is yet another excellent spot for birdwatching, with an extremely wide range of species frequenting the park throughout the year. It’s a great spot for a variety of birds of prey, including osprey, eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls.
Bear, deer, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel, turkey and waterfowl hunting are all permitted in the park.
There are 18 miles of mountain biking trails and 5 miles of hiking and while there are no designated winter sports areas, the park is used for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Snowmobiling and ice skating are permitted.
Yellow Creek is one of the only parks that have a dedicated orienteering course, which is located near the cottages. There are six cottages, three of which are dog-friendly and yurts are also available for booking. The yurts have a variety of amenities available including stoves, fridges, ovens, electric heat and more.
JIM MAYER RIVERSWALK TRAIL
The Jim Mayer Riverswalk Trail allows you to get in a convenient outdoor 5k (3.1 miles) on level ground any time you’d like, right in the heart of the city. Enter on Michigan Ave in Riverside and end in Hornerstown on Messenger St, near Sandyvale Memorial Gardens & Conservancy. The trail starts in the quiet Riverside community and winds around the Stonycreek River, giving you a fantastic view of the falls. It is one of the 13 Trans Allegheny Trails, a group of trails that the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy will eventually join in a continuous system across the state.
Keep an eye out for next year’s Jim Mayer Trail 5k Family Fun Run.
HIGHLAND REGIONAL PARK
Highland Park covers 137 beautiful and efficiently used acres of woodlands and open space ranging from Richland and Geistown to Stonycreek. Highland is well-known for its wide variety of athletic options, including football fields, baseball fields, soccer fields, and basketball and tennis courts. The park also offers mountain bike trails and a well-designed BMX track. Highland Park is the home field of the Johnstown Ridgebacks, the region’s first interscholastic mountain bike team. Contact Laurel Highlands On and Off-Road Bicycling Association (LHORBA) for more information on biking these trails and more throughout the area.
PATH OF THE FLOOD/STAPLE BEND TUNNEL
Regardless of what tragedy may befall them, Johnstowners have proven their resilience throughout the city’s history. The 13.86 -mile Path of the Flood Trail honors the 1889 flood victims by integrating their legacy with the area’s natural beauty. One of the 13 Trans Allegheny Trails, the Path of the Flood Trail, provides education and symbolism. The trailhead is just below the South Fork Dam, where the 1889 floodwaters initially breached. Trailside markers tell the story of the fateful day, while sweeping views of the Conemaugh River valley exhibit why original Johnstowners settled here in the first place.
The Path of the Flood trail connects to the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail and then follows the streets of Johnstown before reaching the Flood Museum. Finished in 1833, the 900-foot Staple Bend Tunnel was the first railroad tunnel in the United States. It’s worth the visit for historians and any admirers of fine craftsmanship. (You’ll want to hop off your bike for a quick break, as the tunnel is dark!)
This path is among the best in the area for outdoor exercise due to its 13.8-mile length, moderate difficulty, and elevation change. Just be ready to hit the brakes! Expect personal records if you’re running the downhill Path of the Flood Historic Races (keep an eye out for next year) or biking due to the downhill grade.
HINCKSTON RUN RESERVOIR TRAILS
HONAN AVE COMMUNITY HIKING & BIKING TRAIL
This 3.5 mile-long walking and biking path starts at the Riverswalk Trail in Cambria City and joins with Eagle Trail and the Joseph P. Whipey Trail. It’s a great place to spot deer, rare eagles, and beavers and offers educational signage about the area’s animal life. There’s a photo-worthy waterfall at the end of the journey.
JOSEPH P WHIPEY TRAIL
Joseph P. Whipey trail is a 2.6-mile loop that borders the serene Hinckston Run Reservoir. If you’re looking for a few hours of outdoor solitude, this is a great place to get it. Bring your kayaks for a day of paddling or drop in a line for some carp, trout, or bass. It’s a great place to see deer, eagles, and beavers. Plenty of wildflowers in the spring give the area some color.
Located behind the Hinckston Run Dam, Eagle is an easy 3.2 mile out and back trail. You’ll see waterfalls, historical foundations, and if you keep your eyes up, you may see a nesting eagle or two. The trail is named for the very active eagles that nest in the trees throughout the area.
ATVs, DIRT BIKES AND OFF ROAD VEHICLES
Rock Run in Patton is a fairly new recreation area with over 140 miles of trails for ATVs, UTVs, and dirtbikes. Patton provides impressive views from atop the Allegheny Mountains. With a wide variety of trails, including rocky hillsides and wide roads, you’re guaranteed a full day of entertainment.
Rock Run hosts a variety of different events, including races, group rides and concerts. There are also 350 primitive campsites over 5 campgrounds, so you can stay the night and ride in the morning!
MOUNTAIN RIDGE ATV PARK
Mountain Ridge has over 140 miles of trails on 2500 acres, including single track, kiddie tracks, a Motor Cross track, and even a drag strip. ATVs, dirt bikes, and off-road vehicles are all welcome here. The park offers night rides on Saturdays. They also offer campsites and rustic cabin leases.
SO WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?
What kind of question is that? If you made it this far, you know what to do by now. Next time somebody asks what’s going on in Johnstown, hand them a map and head out the door. Adventure awaits…